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A Night on the Streets

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William Thompson
5:30 p.m., the Bronx

Chickens, dogs, and a cat or two roam around William Thompson’s secondhand trailer. They remind him of the North Carolina farm where he grew up. The 63-year-old former drug addict, cancer survivor, and widower has been living for more than a decade on a dirt lot on the Bronx side of the Harlem River. A neighborhood church owns the land; Thompson does mechanical work for local businesses to pay the church $75 a month in rent. His gas generator powers a small refrigerator and lights in his trailer, and a butane-fueled heater keeps him warm. But on cold nights, the butane often runs out while he’s asleep. His previous setup burned to the ground a few years ago. With fuel and food costing him more than $40 a day, Thompson’s $700 Social Security check doesn’t last long. Outreach workers tried for years to get him off the street, but he refused. The police roll by twice a night, so he feels safe. He even has a cell phone. Here, he says, “I’m free.” Just this month, however, Thompson agreed to move into a single-room apartment under the new city program that gives chronically homeless people housing, with no strings attached. Thompson says he’s getting old. “If I catch a cold, I’m gone.”


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